Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a premalignant intermediate to esophageal adenocarcinoma, which develops in the context of chronic inflammation and exposure to bile and acid. We asked whether there might be common genomic alterations that could be identified as potential clinical biomarker(s) for BE by whole genome profiling. We detected copy number alterations and/or loss of heterozygosity at 56 fragile sites in 20 patients with premalignant BE. Chromosomal fragile sites are particularly sensitive to DNA breaks and are frequent sites of rearrangement or loss in many human cancers. Seventy-eight percent of all genomic alterations detected by array-CGH were associated with fragile sites. Copy number losses in early BE were observed at particularly high frequency at FRA3B (81%), FRA9A/C (71.4%), FRA5E (52.4%), and FRA 4D (52.4%), and at lower frequencies in other fragile sites, including FRA1K (42.9%), FRAXC (42.9%), FRA 12B (33.3%), and FRA16D (33.3%). Due to the consistency of the region of copy number loss, we were able to verify these results by quantitative PCR, which detected the loss of FRA3B and FRA16D, in 83% and 40% of early molecular stage BE patients, respectively. Loss of heterozygosity in these cases was confirmed through pyrosequencing at FRA3B and FRA16D (75% and 70%, respectively). Deletion and genomic instability at FRA3B and other fragile sites could thus be a biomarker of genetic damage in BE patients and a potential biomarker of cancer risk.
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